India's national anthem completes a century

Last Updated: Tue, Dec 27, 2011 14:59 hrs

Kolkata: 'Jana Gana Mana...', India's lilting national anthem, completed 100 years Tuesday.

First sung by a choir on this date in 1911 at the 26th session of the Indian National Congress here, 'Jana Gana Mana' was composed and set to tune by Rabindranath Tagore - the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913 - days after the British government annulled its plans for the partition of Bengal.

Independent India's constituent assembly adopted the first stanza of the Brahmo hymn as the national anthem on Jan 24, 1950, after an intense debate that saw Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay's 'Vande Mataram' lose out narrowly following objections, particularly from Muslims.

'It's a proud moment for us. 'Jana Gana Mana' is not only the most beautiful song, it also comprehensively describes our unity in diversity. It is the symbol of Indian unity,' said classical vocalist Ustad Rashid Khan.

In 1919, Tagore sang it at the Besant Theosophical College at Andhra Pradesh's Madanapalle town. It so impressed the college authorities that they decided to make it their prayer song.

Within days, Tagore translated the song into English and set down the notation alongside Margaret, wife of Irish poet James Cousin. The song came to be known as 'The Morning Song of India', which became India's national anthem.

Since then, the anthem has moved Indians both at home and abroad. They have sung it with passion, standing in unison, often shedding tears during intense emotional moments, be it on the sports field or even in a cinema theatre.

'It is truly the symbol of unity as it is the only song which people from east to west, north to south know and sing,' said Sahitya Akademi president and eminent writer Sunil Gangopadhyay.

However, the song has had its share of criticism.

Critics had opposed making it India's national anthem, claiming it was written as an eulogy to King George V, as the song coincided with the coronation durbar of the British emperor in New Delhi.

In 1937, Tagore, in a letter, admitted that one of his pro-establishment friends had requested him to write a paean for the emperor.

'I was stunned at that, and also angered. As a result of this catastrophic reaction, I have declared the victory of the dispenser of India's destiny in the 'Jana Gana Mana' song,' wrote Tagore, who holds the unique distinction of having his compositions as the national anthems of two countries - India and Bangladesh.

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